By Kathi Bush MA, LCPC

Hello again. We’re now in Part Four of Building Trust in Relationships. In our previous segments, we said that trust is established only in time, and that trust should happen with “safe” people. Now let’s address our third point, a point that everyone reading this can relate to in some way: 

Trust is established when good repair work is done following a relationship injury.

Repair work is what happens after a conflict or relationship injury, to make amends and restore the relationship back to a feeling of connection. How well repair work happens is a gold standard for relationship health.

With unsafe people, deep trust isn’t established because good repair work doesn’t happen. Because they don’t admit weaknesses or faults, they don’t take responsibility for their part in relationship problems. Instead, they are defensive or blame others. They are not open to feedback. They don’t confess when they are wrong, or if they do apologize, it may not be followed by attempts to change. Since good repair doesn’t happen, it may make relationship matters worse.

With safe people, good repair work gets done, which engenders trust. Safe people face issues directly and are open to feedback. They’re humble because they are aware of their own brokenness. Drs. Cloud and Townsend say in their book Safe People, “Safe people are the last to throw stones. They’ve got too much experience with their own issues.” (1995, p. 178) Good repair work heals and restores, bringing the relationship to deeper understanding, a more connected level.

We may find it easy to act in a safe manner during repair work with friends. It’s with our spouse or family members that we often struggle to act safely following a relationship injury. Consider these questions when there is conflict:

Are you defensive with your spouse or family members, or do you willingly admit your errors?

Are you fully present when they are telling you their feelings, needs and wants, or are you gearing up for your response?

Do you reflect back to them what they are feeling, needing and wanting, then wait for them to confirm that you have understood them correctly?

It’s often in these crucial family relationships that we need to be most conscientious to act kindly, patiently, and compassionately. During conflict, we must remind ourselves to consider their feelings and needs, and refrain from acting out of selfish ambition. Scripture says “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Phil 2: 3-4, NIV, 1985). It can be hard to do this in the middle of conflict. Be assured, though, that the more we practice this toward each other, and the more consistently it’s done, it can come more naturally, like a muscle built up from exercise.

Scripture also says these acts like love, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control are fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23, NIV, 1985). All of these are needed to manage conflict well. Jesus tells us, “I am the vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5, NIV, 1985) So just as fruit grows from a nutrient rich vine, our lives evidence fruit as we remain in Him.

Barker, Kenneth (General Ed.). Burdick, D., Stek, J., Wessel, W., and Youngblood, R., (Assoc. Eds). (1985). The NIV Study Bible: New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Bible Publishers.

Cloud, Henry PhD and Townsend, John, PhD. (1995). Safe People: How to Find Relationships That Are Good for You and Avoid Those That Aren’t. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

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